ISLAMABAD: The much-awaited verdict in the Benazir Bhutto murder case is expected on Thursday.

On Monday, Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Rawalpindi Judge Asghar Ali Khan hinted at announcing the judgment by August 31 after which the four-day Eid vacations would begin.

The judge asked the defence counsel to complete their arguments by Tuesday after which he would reconcile the records.

He also asked Malik Jawad Khalid, the counsel for the three accused - Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul and Sher Zaman - to “conclude the final arguments by Tuesday as he would require two days to scrutinise and compile all the records.”

ATC judge asks defence counsel to complete arguments by Tuesday

Though the judge did not make a categorical statement on announcing the judgment, his remarks apparently indicated that he would announce the verdict before the Eid holidays.

Senior counsel Malik Rafique concluded his arguments in the defence of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Saud Aziz and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Khurram Shehzad.

He argued that the police officials had provided foolproof security to Ms Bhutto but she lost her life as a result of a security breach.

Reading out a statement of SP Ishfaq Anwar, the counsel said Mr Anwar, who later turned as a witness against the two police officers, also admitted that Ms Bhutto herself had breached the security. Mr Anwar was deployed at Liaquat Bagh to provide a ‘box security’ to the slain PPP leader on Dec 27, 2007, when she was assassinated.

However, DIG Aziz sent him to provide security to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif when the PML-N leader’s convoy came under attack near Islamabad.

From the statement of Mr Anwar, Advocate Rafique read that DIG Aziz had warned retired SSP Major Imtiaz, the security officer of Ms Bhutto who was also in the bombproof vehicle, against her repeatedly emerging from the sunroof which was against the security protocol decided by the PPP leadership and the local police.

Wajid Zia’s statement

Senior counsel Rafique even used the statement of Wajid Zia in the defence of the two police officers.

Mr Zia, who recently headed the Panamagate joint investigation team (JIT), was a senior member of the JIT which probed the Benazir murder case.

DIG Aziz is facing charges of removing SP Anwar from Liaquat Bagh and not conducting an autopsy on the body of Ms Bhutto.

Advocate Rafique said Mr Zia and other officers of the investigation team had testified that the DIG had made security arrangements for the PPP procession on December 27, 2007, and the police were ready for the postmortem on Ms Bhutto’s body at the Rawalpindi General Hospital.

Reading out from the statement of Mr Zia, the counsel informed the ATC that he (Mr Zia) had testified that “contention of Saud Aziz was to obtain permission from Asif Ali Zardari to conduct a postmortem examination. He previously contacted Naheed Khan and Amin Fahim for postmortem examination but they told him to consult Asif Ali Zardari for permission of postmortem of Benazir Bhutto.”

Mr Zia had also testified before the ATC that “it is correct to suggest that local police had arranged that in case Asif Ali Zardari allows for postmortem examination at Noor Khan airbase then the arrangements shall be made for postmortem examination by the local police as well as by the then district coordination officer.”

Earlier, DIG Aziz had informed the ATC that Mr Zardari did not allow an autopsy of his spouse when he received him at the airbase on December 27.

Even otherwise, the counsel contended, as per the Criminal Procedure Code and the police rules it was the job of the investigating officer to conduct a postmortem on a deceased person. He said DIG Aziz was not the investigating officer in this case.

Accused completes graduation

One of the accused in the Benazir murder case confined in the Adiala Jail since February 2008 completed his graduation in the first division.

Abdul Rashid was under-matriculate when he was arrested on February 14, 2008, from Nowshehra. He passed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination 2011 held under the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education Rawalpindi.

His counsel Rao Abdul Rahim informed the court that the accused completed his graduation in the first division in 2017.

He said Mr Rashid was facing the charge of having knowledge of those who assassinated Ms Bhutto.

The counsel argued that contrary to the prosecution’s claim that Mr Rashid was a religious extremist and getting religious education in a seminary in Miramshah, he completed reading the holy Quran at Adiala Jail in 2012.

The counsel requested the court to punish the JIT members under section 27 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for a ‘defective’ investigation due to which his client had been behind bars for many years.

Section 27 of the ATA empowers an ATC judge to “punish the delinquent officer with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine or both by resort to summary proceedings.”

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2017

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